A siren song

Disappearing songbirds of Asia

by Vinita Ramani & Naomi Clark-Shen

Southeast Asia is a major hub for the illegal wildlife trade. One group of animals suffering are the songbirds, which are poached for their melodious calls. With over 400 species and millions of songbirds traded annually across Asia, their numbers are plummeting. So what happens to the ones that are sold into the trade? And does our love for them justify the perpetuation of the practice at such a large scale?

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Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysia

Straw-headed bulbul (Credit: Aviancatspace Cheng)

Poaching birds

Map showing the distribution of the Straw-headed bulbul until mid-20th century and its current distribution, indicating extinction in Thailand, Java and most likely Myanmar and Sumatra. Data from BirdLife International Species factsheet: Pycnonotus zeylanicus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org. Accessed 5 March 2019.

North Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

Birds in crates or plastic boxes readied for smuggling. Photograph credit: FLIGHT 

Here comes the collector
East Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

Many birds do not survive the tedious journey of being trapped, smuggled and sold into the trade. Photo credit: FLIGHT

Traded and Sold
Some of Southeast Asia’s largest markets

Chatuchak Weekend Market, Bangkok, Thailand.  Photo credit: Elizabeth John/TRAFFIC

Jakarta, Indonesia

Cages line the streets at Pramuka market, one of the largest markets in Jakarta. Credit: Kanitha Krishnasamy, TRAFFIC

Bring on the buyers
Bogor, Indonesia

Bird cages hanging in a field, location unknown.

Pride, power, and privilege

“The Making of a Javanese Man”: A Javanese man needs a wife, a dagger, a house, transportation and a bird/hobby


Credit: Serene Chng / TRAFFIC

The last stronghold

Birds being sold in Singapore. Credit: James A. Eaton / TRAFFIC

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Disclaimer: Our stories have been researched and fact-checked to the best of our abilities. Should you spot mistakes, inaccuracies, or have queries about our sources, please drop us an e-mail at hello@kontinentalist.com
In collaboration with
TRAFFIC / Partnership

TRAFFIC is a leading NGO that works on wild animal and plant trade around the globe, focusing on biodiversity conservation and sustainable development. It conducts research, analysis, and policy work together with a wide range of partners, from governments and businesses to individuals.

MONITOR / Partnership

Monitor is a conservation research society that focuses on issues related to and the less-known species that are impacted by the global wildlife trade. It aims to raise awareness and inspire citizen conservation through scientific publications and outreach campaigns.

Illustration / Joceline Kuswanto
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